From immersive tours of ancient Rome to the intricacies of artisan crafts, gastronomy to national parks, Italy has an endless number of things to do. You can witness more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country in the world or sample the enticing flavors of celebrated wines. Art, architecture, gastronomy, history, and heritage highlight the depth of Italy’s quintessential allure with a range of experiences that stretch from the Dolomite Mountains in the north to the shores of Sicily’s Lido Mazzaro in the south. The following information will help you discover the essential things to do in Italy for a majestic, authentic, and unique experience.
Italy feels both contemporary and yet powerfully connected to its past. In a country known for its rich ancient history, the past stretches back thousands of years. Whether interested in the reunification of the nation in the late-19th century, the powerful influence of the Catholic state, the Renaissance, the Etruscans, the Greeks, or the infamous Roman Empire, each region highlights its storied, cultural roots. The past of each town, city, and region informs their particular present with ancient history coming alive in cities like Rome and in pockets of Sicily.
Best Places to Visit for Ancient History: Rome | Segesta | Verona | Naples | Matera | Ravenna
Italy has an extensive history, which results in an endless number of cities, towns, and villages that are connected to the unique pasts of the unified peninsula. You can best experience the diverse ruins across Italy in places like Rome, Segesta, Verona, Naples, Matera, and Ravenna.
Best Time to Visit: April | May | October | November
Italy’s cuisine is famous for its simple ingredients and impeccable recipes that result in divine flavors. It is no surprise that food remains an indelible part of the culture, from a fresh brioche each morning to the family meal on Sundays. The gastronomy of Italy showcases the diverse artisanal cuisine of local communities and is revealed in the kitchens of locals in a city, village, or classic Italian town. From dishes like carbonara in Rome to risotto alla milanese in Lombardy, a Sicilian cannoli to Florence’s bistecca alla fiorentina, working chefs and household cooks follow recipes that have been perfected over decades or even centuries.
Best Places to Visit: Bologna | Naples | Venice | Parma
The unique soils and ingredients in each region of Italy mean that the resulting cuisine will bring to light the traditions of different communities, offering distinctive recipes and dynamic flavors. While the best food destinations to visit in Italy are based on your tasting goals, places like Bologna, Naples, Venice, and Parma are hard to beat.
Best Time to Visit: May | June | September | October
Food goes beyond satiation in Italy and influences life and culture. The culinary recipes across the Italian peninsula represent familial connection, an understanding of history, and the essence of local traditions. Cooking stands as a symbol of Italy’s longstanding history but also as a glimpse into the ingenuity of typical home kitchens with neighbors and family members sharing recipes, techniques, or instructions on the best ways to make a proper Italian meal. Developments like the Slow Food Movement have helped preserve authentic recipes, local ingredients, and conserved cooking techniques.
Best Places to Visit: Tuscany | Rome | Amalfi Coast
With each region of Italy offering something unique in terms of ingredients and flavor, the specific area for the best cooking class depends on your preference in dishes. A city like Palermo will have very different cuisine than a city like Milan due to the different climates, terrain, and cultural influences throughout the millennia. The most popular places for visitors to enjoy a cooking class in Italy are Tuscany, Rome, and the Amalfi Coast.
Best Time to Visit: May | June | September | October
Italy’s fascinating scenery supports the growth of a variety of truffles, both white and black. The unique ingredient thrives at the base of rolling hills, across the moist soils of soaring cliffs, and hidden among the roots of bountiful forests. The prized truffle grows slowly in the dark underbrush of damp soils. The truffles grow symbiotically with certain trees, such as oak and hazelnut found throughout Italy, making a truffle hunt a fun, unique, and easy activity to enjoy, in addition to the marvelous flavor enjoyed with dishes like pasta, risotto, or eggs.
Best Places to Visit: Piedmont | Tuscany | Le Marche | Umbria
The connection between climate and environment has made Italy a fantastic destination for truffles that grow wild across various regions. Truffles prefer cool winters, damp springs, and hot summers all while hiding in the darkness of the tree canopy. These requirements make it difficult to find the varietals of truffle but also result in regions like Piedmont, Tuscany, Le Marche, and Umbria producing quality annual growth that is perfect for hunting.
Best Time to Visit: April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November
Italy is like the Wild West of wines with approximately 350 registered varietals and more than 2,000 different types of grapes. Each wine has a specific purpose ingrained in the cultural heritage of the different regions, resulting in different textures, aromas, and flavors. The institutionalized growth and consumption of wine around the Italian Peninsula date back to the arrival of the Greeks in Southern Italy in the 8th century BC. Through the millennia, wine has become an important association with Italian culture, with locals often having a glass at lunch, at dinner, or when casually snacking in the afternoon.
Best Places to Visit: Veneto | Tuscany | Piedmont
The diversity of wines in Italy means that the best places to visit revolve around your particular preferences of characteristics, such as alluring textures, specific aromas, layered flavors, etc. The regions that offer the highest volume of wines protected by the DOC label (Controlled Designation of Origin) are Veneto, Tuscany, and Piedmont. Popular wines from these regions include Valpolicella, Chianti, and Barolo, respectively.
Best Time to Visit: March | April | May
Italy is home to the greatest abundance of quality olive oil around the world with prized chefs and home cooks alike enjoying its distinctive properties. The charm of olive oil derives from the layers of colors, aromas, and, ultimately, the flavor. The average olive oil possesses a fruit or vegetable scent, slightly bitter notes, and a creamy texture. The quality of the olive oil, as well as its specific characteristics, will inform how you could use the oil, from dipping bread, marinating vegetables, or cooking it with specific ingredients.
Best Places to Visit: Tuscany | Liguria | Lake Garda
Olive oil is considered liquid gold across the Mediterranean, and Italy remains home to some of the most prominent producers of olive oil in the world. The rich heritage of olive oil in the Mediterranean climate supports the wealth of farmers and producers in the warm south of Sicily up to the colder foothills of the Italian Alps. The most celebrated varieties come from regions like Tuscany, Liguria, and Lake Garda.
Best Time to Visit: November
The whole of the Italian peninsula has over 400 different kinds of cheese, and each region specializes in its own variety and methods of production. Not all cheeses in Italy are created equal within any given region because farmers are known for using ingredients that are readily available, such as milk from cows, buffalo, goat, or sheep. While you may be familiar with classic cheeses like mozzarella and Parmesan, Italy has a wide assortment of cheeses classified by texture, age, and processing, with a number of histories dating back to the Roman empire more than two millennia ago.
Best Places to Visit: Emilia-Romagna | Puglia | Campania | Lombardy
Italy’s mountains, coastline, and plains support the unique characteristics of the various cheeses for which each region is known. Because of the terrain, the milk from the animals will transform the flavors and texture of the cheese. The most celebrated places for cheeses in Italy highlight popular flavors and the focus of local communities on traditional cheese-making techniques, such as in Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Campania, and Lombardy.
Best Time to Visit: March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October
Italy has a profound connection with pizza, and the legend of its creation dates back to the reunification of the nation in the 19th century. The types of crust, cheese, and toppings have evolved through the centuries, with Italy’s 20 regions using typical ingredients found in abundance around their specific terrain. The quintessential Margherita pizza will always represent the birth of the dish, the iconic Italian flag, and the city of Naples, but pizza in general now embodies greater Italian cuisine around the world, whether acting as a proper representative or not.
Best Places to Visit: Naples
Naples is the best place for a pizza-making class in Italy. The capital of the Campania region is not only a food haven but is also considered the birthplace of the famous Margherita pizza. Pizza makers from around the world visit Naples as a pilgrimage to learn the art of making quality pizza the traditional way. Naples will give you the foundation of pizzamaking, from which you can then discover the flavors and varieties of pizza you prefer by showcasing both the art and practicality of the dish.
Best Time to Visit: April | May | September | October
Pasta is an integral part of the Italian diet with more than 350 different types of noodles. While the myth of Marco Polo returning from China with spaghetti remains popular, noodles were prevalent in ancient civilizations on the Italian peninsula with such civilizations as the Etruscans and Romans. The simple beauty and flavor of fresh pasta is the result of hand-made noodles from durum semolina flour and water. The type of noodle used in a dish, from its shape to its size, then informs the type of sauce that accompanies it.
Best Places to Visit: Campania | Puglia | Emilia-Romagna | Lazio
The wealth of pasta noodles in Italy makes each region a specialist in different dishes by using specific pasta shapes and textures. Some noodles are better for dishes with rich sauces, while other pastas are better suited for clingy, melted cheese. The best place for a pasta class will depend on your goals and pasta preferences, but popular types of pasta are made in regions like Campania, Puglia, Emilia-Romagna, and Lazio.
Best Time to Visit: October | November
The connection Italy has to the art world is unparalleled with Roman mosaics, masterworks of the Renaissance, and captivating images of Baroque grandeur. Different regions in Italy have developed artistic skills in various mediums according to available materials that span the ages. An art and wine class in Italy not only combines two of the most notable cultural aspects of the country but allows you a chance to follow the processes of artistic legends while sampling one of Italy’s iconic varietals, mirroring the wonder of artistic creation.
Best Places to Visit: Florence | Rome
Florence and Rome are not only iconic cities for celebrated Italian art but also represent two of the best destinations for an art and wine class. Florence is known as the Cradle of the Renaissance and houses a number of renowned works of art, from Michelangelo’s David to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Rome offers the ultimate inspiration in mosaics, frescoes, and sculptures with images of Rafael’s School of Athens to Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers acting as muses for any art and wine class.
Best Time to Visit: April | May | September | October
The thought of being a gladiator can fulfill a childhood dream and evoke images of immense crowds roaring in the Colosseum. The exciting prospect of gladiator training differs from the true history of the Roman games with a family-friendly activity, during which you learn new skills during a vigorous training process that once taught gladiators how to fight and battle. Instructors immerse you in the ancient world with period appropriate clothing and replicated memorabilia in an outdoor training ground. The prism of historical strength shines through each round of training as the coaches guide you through offensive and defensive techniques.
Best Places to Visit: Rome
Rome is the best place in Italy for a gladiator training class. The ancient foundations of the city give visitors a great opportunity for merging fun activities with historical sites. Here,you can not only train like a gladiator but can explore the Colosseum’s Hypogeum, where real gladiators once trained and waited for their matches to begin.
Best Time to Visit: May | October
Passion takes the form of tradition and skill when featured in artisan crafts around Italy. Handmade practices turn merchandise into artwork, from leatherwork to stitched shirts and cobbled shoes to mosaics that reflects the pride of custom passed down through generations. The diversity of artisan crafts around Italy speaks to the different terrain that shifts from the quenched alpine slopes to the thirsty rocky gorges. Private studios act like art galleries and give you insight into the continued techniques of working artisans as they master the minute details that have made Italian goods so precious.
Best Places to Visit: Florence | Venice | Milan
An artisan’s craft reveals more than just the intricate skill of the craftsperson but also the historical context of the art within that specific destination. Certain regions around Italy are known for different types of crafts due to the rich heritage of workers, such as guilds or tradespeople, that helped preserve the art for future generations. Each region has its own set of celebrated crafts and artisans, but some of the most popular destinations to visit artisan studios include Florence, Venice, and Milan.
Best Time to Visit: May | October
There are fewer places more iconic than Italy for shopping. The phrase “Made in Italy” personifies status, quality, and style. Fashion focuses on design for men and women with unique flourishes in jewelry, shoes, dresses, and bags. Each region specializes in a different type of fashion accessory, from footwear to clothing, bags to furniture. This makes window shopping, trying on clothes, and searching for your personal style in Italy an essential experience.
Best Places to visit: Rome | Florence | Portofino | Milan
The shopping experiences in Italy can range from having private shoppers to visiting a luxury shopping outlet, but the cities of Rome, Florence, Portofino, and Milan are known for their favored shops, celebrated luxurious streets, and fabulous window displays.
Best Time to Visit: February | March | September | October
With an active exploration, a catacombs tour in Italy immerses you in the unique combination of discovering the lesser-known civilizations and traditions that are hidden beneath modern life. Etruscan tombs, Roman chambers, early-Christian labyrinths, and Capuchin crypts reveal the various ways cultures have followed unique customs throughout history on the Italian peninsula. Etruscan necropolises date as far back as the 7th century BC. Each hall or chamber provides insight into thousands of years of history, which is revealed in those buried, the techniques used, the customs preserved, and the paraphernalia uncovered.
Best Places to Visit: Tarquinia | Appian Way
The best places to visit for catacombs and necropolises in Italy include Tarquinia for Etruscan burial grounds and the Appian Way for early Christian burial images. The best catacombs capture more than just famous legends that once belonged to the outskirts of the ancient city and, instead, reveal the depths of ancient religious rituals through preserved burial rites and images.
Best Time to Visit: May | October
Gondolas remain an elegant representation of Venice with a history that dates back to the 11th century. The quintessential flat-bottomed boats traverse the canals and once acted as the main source of transportation for Venetian aristocrats. The best gondoliers know the backwaters away from the noise and rocky waters of the Grand Canal and crowds that swarm the Rialto Bridge. These experts can take you alongside the backstreets to reveal the quieter majesty or historic facades that are often overlooked around the city. Whether relaxing in a gondola or learning how to navigate the boat like a traditional gondolier, a gondola tour has become an essential way to experience Venice.
Best Places to Visit: Venice
Venice is the only place in the world where you can ride an authentic gondola. The canals are more than 1,200 years old and provide a unique view of the city’s layers, from the aristocratic neighborhoods to former defensive walls, the Jewish ghetto to the boatyard where artisan craftspeople continue making the elegant boats by hand.
Best Time to Visit: November | December | January | February | March
With so many intriguing things to see and do in Italy, arranging transportation, hotels, and tours should not have to be on your mind. Leave the planning to a Zicasso expert travel specialist and leave more time for yourself to explore Italy’s most marvelous destinations. For inspiration, information, and helpful tips, visit our Italy Travel Guide, and when you’re ready to talk with an expert, submit a Trip Request and we will get you connected. If you prefer to talk directly to one of Zicasso’s friendly representatives, please call 1-888-265-9707.